Easy Frittata

Ok, leftover lovers, here’s a delicious and simple dish to incorporate some of the random items hanging around in your fridge — the frittata!  I was more than pleasantly surprised to find this one, made by my husband, in my kitchen for lunch today.  On a lazy morning, following several days of holiday partying, this was a perfect get-back-to-basics kind of meal, and it used up some plain leftover pasta, as well!

1/4 c. onion, finely chopped
1/4 c. yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
8-10 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
7-8 eggs
1/3 c. heavy cream or half and half (optional, but a really good idea)
1 c. shredded cheese (any cheese is fine – this one incorporated cheddar, mozzarella, and monterey jack, but Gruyère would be awesome)
2 1/2 cups of leftover pasta (preferably a long, thin pasta like linguine or spaghetti)
butter
olive oil
cubed ham or turkey, cooked (great use for leftover meat!)

In a frying pan on medium/high heat, saute the onions, pepper, and mushrooms in some olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms first since they take the longest. Once the mushrooms have given up most of their moisture, add the onion, pepper and garlic. Saute the onions and peppers until they are tender, but still have some bite, about three minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat a separate non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Lightly whisk the eggs and cream together in a bowl. Add the pasta, salt and pepper to the egg and mix. Melt one tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in the non-stick pan and swirl it to evenly coat the pan. Once the butter stops foaming and just begins to turn brown (you’ll start to smell a nutty aroma), pour the egg mixture into the pan. Distribute the pasta evenly.  Add the sauteed veggies and cubed meat and swirl slightly so that they are evenly distributed. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven on a high broil setting, with the rack placed just below the center of the oven. Refrain from moving the egg mixture around in the pan so a good crust forms on the bottom. After about three minutes, add the cheese to the top and place the pan under the broiler. Make sure that your pan is oven safe before doing this! Remove from the oven once the top is golden brown and the eggs have puffed up a bit like a souffle (about three minutes). The result looks a bit like an egg pizza! You may need to gently shake the pan and use a spatula to free the frittata from the pan. Carefully slide the frittata onto a cutting board or serving dish. Cut into slices and serve! And don’t worry if the first one doesn’t come out perfectly, frittatas take a little practice. Just tell everyone that you made some gourmet scrambled eggs. They’ll never know the difference.

Other filling suggestions: anything! Just make sure that whatever you add is as dry as possible, otherwise you’ll have a watery frittata. This especially goes for spinach, which should be wilted and squeezed first.

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A Cloud of Meringue: Pavlova Dessert

This dessert is one of my favorite go-to recipes for holidays, dinner parties, and the like.  Not only is it delicious, but it’s a relatively easy dessert to put together, and it looks impressive.  But the best thing about this dessert is that it is so light and airy that it can top off any 20-course holiday smorgasbord and still leave room for a cocktail or coffee.

There are many recipes and variations of this dessert available, but the basic combination is simple:  meringue + whipped cream + fruit.  Winter is a great time for making this, at least in the northern regions in the U.S., because meringue is much easier to cook and store when there is not much ambient heat or humidity.  Of course, the storing problem usually isn’t an issue because I never seem to have leftovers!

The name Pavlova was apparently given in honor of Anna Pavlova, a famous Russian ballerina from the early 20th century.  The meringue takes 2-3 hours in the oven, so it’s best to prepare that part the night before you plan to serve it.  The rest of the assembly can be done relatively quickly and at the last minute.

Meringue

6 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 Tbl. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla

Whipped Cream

1 pt. heavy or whipping cream, chilled
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3 Tbl. sugar, to taste

Fruit – fresh or frozen, choose one option from below

1 1/2 c. berries (blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries) + 2 Tbl. berry jam
or
1 mango and 1 kiwi, both peeled + 2 Tbl. apricot jam
or
1 1/2 c.  peeled and sliced peaches, nectarines, or apricots + 2 Tbl. apricot jam

Garnish (optional)
1/4 c. fresh fruit, sliced or cut decoratively
1/4 c. chopped unsalted pistachios

Preheat your oven to 250º and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Using a whisk attachment, beat the eggs in an electric mixer on slow to medium speed until soft peaks begin to form.  Increase the speed and slowly add the sugar. Continue beating for several minutes more until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Fold in the vanilla, cornstarch, and vinegar until combined.

Spoon out the egg whites onto the baking sheet in the shape of a circle no larger than the dish you plan to use for serving (about 8-9 inches in diameter). Then hollow out a wide, shallow crater in the center that will later serve as a “bowl” for the fruit. The egg whites should look like a shiny, white, fluffy cumulus cloud, with a slight volcano center. Avoid sharp peaks because they will just break off after the meringue is cooked.

Bake the meringue at 250º for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 175º and bake for another 1 1/2 hours more. Turn off the heat and let the meringue rest in the oven for an additional hour or so (or overnight), until the oven and meringue are completely cooled. The outside of the meringue should seem hard and crispy to the touch. Store the meringue in a cool, dry place until ready to serve.

Place the meringue “cake” in one piece on the serving plate. When removing the meringue from the parchment paper or baking mat, it’s best to use a large off-set spatula. Don’t worry if a few small pieces crumble off. They can be placed in the “crater” with the fruit before covering it all with the whipped cream. And if it cracks a bit, no big deal — it will be undetectable under the cream.

Take half of the fruit (whichever kind you choose) and either mash it or lightly puree it with the jam. Chop the rest into small chunks and add it to the mashed fruit. Spoon the fruit mixture into the crater of the meringue. Depending on the size of the crater, you might not use all the fruit.

In a chilled bowl, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Cover the entire meringue with the whipped cream, making it look like a very white, fluffy cloud. Garnish with the reserved fruit pieces, if you like. I like it just smooth and creamy, but if you want to add a little crunch, you can also sprinkle chopped unsalted pistachios on top. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Eggs with Zucchini (A.K.A: Omeleta Kolokithakia)

I will admit that I am always on the hunt for yet another dish that uses one of my favorite ingredients: eggs. We’ve posted a few recipes for eggs in the past, such as poached eggs in tomato sauce, but I would love to share a recipe with you that helps to use up the ever-abundant summer zucchini. This morning I ventured over to my sister-in-law’s home to watch her make this dish. She is a fantastic Greek cook, and throughout the years that I have visited Greece, I have learned many traditional recipes with her help. This dish is simple, yet delicious, and can be made for brunch, lunch, or a late night snack.

3 large eggs, beaten
2 large zucchini, washed, slightly peeled, halved, and chopped
½ c. olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste

Beat the eggs together in a small bowl. Add some freshly ground pepper and a pinch of salt. Set aside. (Here is a striking example of the deep orange the yolks of the eggs are here  in Greece. Amazing!)

With a vegetable peeler, peel strips off the outside of the zucchini. You do not want to remove the entire skin, but rather, produce a decorative pattern. You also want some of the skin left attached in order for the pieces of zucchini to hold their shape throughout the cooking process. Trim the ends off the zucchini, slice in half, and cut into 1/4″ slices.

On medium high heat, add half the oil and the zucchini pieces into a large sauté pan. Sprinkle with salt and give the zucchini a good stir to coat with oil. Every few minutes, toss the zucchini, and add more oil if it becomes too dry. After about 8-10 minutes, the zucchini should be cooked through and nicely browned.

Add the other half of the olive oil and slowly pour the eggs into the pan. Make sure to turn down the heat to low or your eggs will burn. Allow the eggs to cook for about 3 minutes. When the eggs have cooked through, flip with a spatula, and turn off the heat.

And that’s it! Another simple, delicious summer dish that won’t leave you slaving in the hot kitchen for hours. Enjoy!

Eggs….cont’d.

Let’s revisit the egg again, if you don’t mind. I like to have eggs stocked in my house at all times. My children love to eat them hard-boiled, and you never know when the baking bug might come and bite you, so it’s always good to have some extra eggs on hand. Then there’s the day when you know you have a full list and going to the grocery store is totally out of the picture. You look in the fridge, and it’s slim pickings; some cheese, an onion, a stick of butter, and some milk. But wait! The eggs! Of course you could always just make a nice, but simple, omelet. But if you’re feeling slightly more ambitious, you may just want to make a quiche.

My favorite aspect of the quiche is its versatility.  The egg base, for the most part, stays the same, however, you can almost add any other vegetable or cheese you have on hand. Perhaps you have some left-over asparagus or broccoli lingering in the fridge from last night’s dinner. Have a few slices of bacon in the freezer? The quiche is the perfect food for left-over experimentation, so try whatever floats your fancy!

Now for the crust…. I’m not sure why, but a lot of people shy away from making pie crusts. Perhaps they think they’re too complicated or possess a finicky nature, but with a little practice, you will never go back to the store-bought crusts. Trust me. Now, I do admit that I have used store-bought crusts when I am in a total pinch for time, but for about the same time it takes to thaw a frozen crust, you can whip up your very own. It’s really up to you and how you feel. You’ve gotta do what you gotta do to get dinner on the table every evening, but the next weekend, when you might have an extra 30 minutes, why not try a crust?!

A basic pie dough recipe (makes 2 x 9″ crusts):

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/4-1/2 c. ice water (just place a small bowl of water into the freezer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients)

In a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar; pulse the dry ingredients a few times. Add the butter and process until mix resembles coarse meal, about 8-10 seconds. While machine is running, slowly add the ice water through the feed tube of the processor. Pulse until the dough holds together without being too wet. BE CAREFUL not to over-process the dough. It should not be processed for more than 30 seconds, otherwise the dough will not have the correct consistency. Remove the dough from the bowl and squeeze it together. If it’s too crumbly, add more water, 1 Tbl. at a time. Divide dough into two equal parts and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap . Transfer to refrigerator and chill about 1 hour. May be frozen 1 month, so you’re good to go the next time your in the mood for quiche!

Quiche Filling:

5 slices of  non-nitrate bacon, cut into 1/4″ cubes

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1 leek; cleaned, dried and cut into small slices (optional)

3 large eggs

1 1/2 c. half and half

1/2 tsp. salt

pinch of ground nutmeg

freshly ground pepper to taste

8 oz. hard cheese of your choice, grated (ex: manchego, cheddar, gueyère)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Add your bacon into a sauté pan on medium heat. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, until bacon begins to brown. Add the green onions and/or leeks. Allow to cook for another 4-5 minutes; set aside. Meanwhile, mix the eggs, half and half, salt,  pepper, and nutmeg.

Remove the dough from the fridge, and on a floured surface, roll out the crust to about 1/4″ thick. Gently place the dough into a pie pan. Fold under the extra dough along the rim of the pie pan; shape decoratively if you want.*

Sprinkle the bacon mixture and cheese onto the bottom of the crust. Pour the egg mixture into the crust. Allow to bake for about 40 minutes, or until the quiche begins to brown nicely on top. If your crust is browning too quickly, simply add some aluminum foil along the rim. It’s ok if the center of the quiche looks a bit “wobbly” when you first remove it from the oven. It will harden up once it begins to cool.

Serve warm or cold, straight from the fridge. It’s totally up to you…….

* You can “pinch” the dough between your thumb and forefinger.

Poached Eggs in Red Sauce

To continue with the subject of eggs, I wanted to include a recipe for an egg dish I use for dinner. A Greek friend of mine, who is a fabulous, no-nonsense cook, makes this dish on occasion. Alternatively, you could make this for lunch, however, it is fairly filling. You can play around with the seasonings, making it more or less spicy, and adjusting the amounts of cumin. The leftover sauce is great for soaking some warm, crusty bread into. In addition to bread, I usually serve some feta cheese with a dash of olive oil and dried oregano on top, along with some Kalamata olives. Simple, fast, and yummy….. what you want for a week-night dinner.

For the red sauce:

16 oz. ground organic tomatoes, preferably with no salt added

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 lg. clove of garlic, smashed and diced

1/2 green pepper, cut into small, thin strips (may be omitted)

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 tsp. cumin (adjust to your liking)

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1-2 bay leaves

1 small dried chili, crumbled into pieces (may be omitted, or substitute with more ground pepper)

1/3 c. water (this is appx.)

salt, freshly ground pepper to taste

Add oil to saucepan, on medium heat; add onion, garlic, and cumin; sauté for 5-6 minutes, until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes, sugar (you can omit the sugar, but it gives the sauce a nice, subtle sweetness), salt, pepper, oregano, and chili. Allow mixture to cook for 3-4 minutes. You don’t want the sauce to be too thick, so add some water to the pan. You may need more or less than 1/3 c. water, so just eye-ball it. We’re only trying to thin the tomatoes out a bit, but we certainly don’t want to water-log the pan! Add bay leaves; cover and bring to a very slow simmer, allowing to cook for about 30 minutes. Taste, and if you need to, adjust the seasonings.

Once the sauce is done to your liking, it’s time to add the eggs. Generally I allot 2 eggs per person, but some people, like my husband, require at least 3 eggs, so it all depends on who will be eating. Gently crack the eggs, one by one, into the sauce. Although you may be tempted, do not move the eggs around with a spoon once you have added them into the pan. You want the eggs to stay intact as much as possible. Give the eggs another good grinding of pepper on top, and cover the pan. Be sure to keep checking back frequently, but generally the eggs take anywhere from 5-8 minutes to cook, depending on how runny you like your eggs. In fact, you may want to under-cook them because they will continue cooking once the heat source has been removed. 

Chop a small handful of parsley and garnish atop the dish. I usually take the pan I used to cook the eggs and sauce directly to the table, placing it on top of a hot mat. The dish looks beautiful this way, and friends and family will also enjoy serving themselves in this manner. Just be sure to have everything else in place (cheese, olives, place settings, etc) because once the eggs are done, you want to consume them fairly quickly. Eggs, as great as they are, never taste as eggcellent when they’re lukewarm.

Eggs….for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner)

To continue with a few more ideas for breakfast and lunch, may we consider the egg. The egg is so versatile. It  can be eaten alone, incorporated into numerous dishes, or in some cases, even as a garnish. People eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner. Basically anytime of the day is a perfect time for consuming eggs.

But not every egg is created equally! I remember the first time I cracked open an egg someone gave me from one of the villages on the Greek island where we stay during the summer. I had never, in my entire life, seen a yolk so deeply orange. I then knew why many Europeans referred to the yolk of the egg, as the red of the egg! Made me stop and think why most of the eggs available to me at the grocery store back home looked sickly in comparison. Could it possibly be that a majority of eggs sold in the United States come from factory farms, where the chickens laying them are living in terrible conditions and not able to forage the earth for grass and bugs like nature intended?? Hmmmmm……

I have found some very good eggs at my local farmer’s market, as well as the co-op, where I order my goat milk. But honestly, not even every container of “organic eggs” will be that great. There are, sadly, many legal loop holes that farmers use to obtain the “organic” or “free-roaming” label, even though their chickens are still, for the most part, cooped up in gigantic warehouse-like barns. I recently came across, The Cornucopia Institute’s website, which rates eggs, allowing consumers to see which producers received the highest scores in their egg-laying operations. I found it, as well as the site’s video’s, very informative.

http://www.cornucopia.org/2010/09/organic-egg-report-and-scorecard/

So, once you’ve armed yourself with knowledge, and a few good eggs, it’s time to cook. For breakfast, I usually prefer scrambled eggs, but there’s also the hard egg, or soft-boiled egg, which is lovely with a few slices of dipping toast. My son is a huge fan of the hard-boiled egg, which is great, simply because you can cook a few in advance and store them in the fridge. Hard-boiled eggs are also a great option for packed lunches. If your child is too small to peel the shell, just peel it for him, and include a little container of salt. (Unless your child doesn’t like a small pinch of salt on his egg!)

For lunch, I love to make egg salad.  Simply boil about 6 eggs. Make sure not to put the heat too high, particularly if the eggs are cold. Bring them to a slow boil; cook for 4-5 minutes; then shut the heat off and allow the eggs to continue cooking in the hot water. This technique will prevent your eggs from cracking. Once the eggs have been cooked and peeled, smash them into small pieces with a fork. Add some mayonnaise, about 1-1 1/2 large spoonfuls; some finely chopped dill; 1 tsp. Dijon mustard; and sprinkle with salt and pepper to your liking. I have tried to make the egg salad into sandwiches with two slices of bread, but I find it’s best consumed open-faced, or even, just dipped into with some good crackers.